Cirrus owner and pilot Rick Beach has compiled a storehouse of knowledge about SR20/SR22 accidents during years of thoughtful inquiry – and his conclusions about what causes the accidents, and how to avoid them, are at times surprising and of great potential value to all general aviation pilots.
In a comprehensive report published in current issue of Cirrus Pilot, the membership magazine for the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), Beach debunks a few Cirrus myths and makes some compelling suggestions for improving overall flight safety in the future.
The most surprising fact that Beach’s intellectually rigorous study uncovers is that low-time pilots aren’t the problem. In fact, relatively high-time pilots with instrument, commercial, and/or instructor ratings are responsible for about 75 percent of the fatal Cirrus accidents in which pilot ratings were available.
“Only two pilots in a Cirrus fatal accident had less than 150 hours total time,” Beach said. “One of them was (the late New York Yankees pitcher) Cory Lidle, who had an instructor in the right seat during the accident.” (The other took place off the coast of France under unknown conditions.) Pilots with more than 400 hours total time accounted for 33 of 44 fatal Cirrus accidents where pilot experience was reported.
No one familiar with aviation accident history would be surprised to find that pilot error accounted for a majority of Cirrus accidents – but the percentage of fatal pilot mistakes is overwhelming in the Cirrus fleet. (Cirrus delivered the first production SR20 in 1999.)
“All but one of the 37 probable causes determined by NTSB accident investigations lists pilot causes,” Beach found. Adverse weather was a factor in most Cirrus accidents, and weather-related accidents are most common in the October-through-March time frame.
It stands to reason that pilots who seek to constantly upgrade their skills are safer – but the degree to which that’s true in the Cirrus community is astonishing. According to Beach, “Pilots who do not participate in COPA safety activities are four times more likely to have a fatal accident.”
Part of the reason active COPA members have a better record is that they are more likely to use the airframe parachutes that all Cirrus aircraft carry as standard equipment. There have been 20 parachute deployments in Cirrus aircraft in the last decade, and 17 of them were successful in saving the lives of 35 people aboard those airplanes.
During the same period, there were 55 fatal Cirrus accidents where the airframe parachute wasn’t deployed. In examining those scenarios, Beach estimates more than half (30) had “a high or good probability of success if the pilot would have pulled the (parachute) handle.”
Beach’s advice in a nutshell is to actively seek out more high-quality flight training, keep learning, and don’t hesitate to pull the parachute in an emergency (assuming the airplane you’re flying has one).
Beach’s report is available online at the following Web address: http://www.cirruspilots.org/content/FreeSafetyIssue.aspx